Friday, 5 November 2010

Community Networks and Scrutiny

One of the most important aspects of the move to a single Cornwall Council was the pledge to set up local forums across Cornwall. So whilst the abolition of six districts and one county council would save tens of millions of pounds, there would remain a way of holding councillors to account for local services on a local basis.

When the Tory led administration took over, they put an immediate halt to localism whilst they held a review. This review decided that local community networks would be allowed to carry on and each of the 19 have developed in their own way.

Those in the North and the East have perhaps been the strongest. Here we feel most distant from the decisions being taken about us in Truro and so we have formed strong networks which bring together Cornwall Councillors, parish and town councils and professionals such has police and health services.

In Launceston, we have held thematic meetings to discuss issues such as local shops and play facilities and, most recently, housing and planning. The network (which I chair) has been taking the lead on developing a Launceston town framework plan and making sure that Cornwall Council did not close our tourist information centre without someone else being ready to take it over.

A key part of the network are our staff. We share two members of staff with the next door Caradon network which covers Callington and the surrounding areas. Both are excellent and do a lot to make sure that everyone knows what is going on and keeping us aware of anything we might have missed. They are also a key link point between Cornwall Council and the parish and town councils and have secured the attendance of cabinet members and senior officers at our meetings.

But the community network arrangements are under threat from the current budget cuts. One attitude which seems to be prevalent among some at County Hall is that the networks are about a way of doing things rather than being a front line service. I think this is wrong and I spoke up in favour of the current arrangements (at least, as far as they affect us in our area) at today's final budget scrutiny meeting.

A proposal that had been floated was to centralise the network managers so that we would no longer have our own staff. Instead, staff expertise would be doled out on a case by case basis. In order to ensure continuity and effective working, I argued that the basis of a named network team should stay. As Andrew Long, Chair of the Caradon Network put it: "we should consolidate up to the best performing rather than down to the worst."

We won a concession from the administration that they would not seek to make changes either to the staffing or the ways of working without coming back and getting approval for their plans from the scrutiny committees. I am grateful to them for seeing the sense in this and I hope this means that our community networks will continue to go from strength to strength.

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